Overrules termination after pranks, harassment charges
A tenured teacher who was removed from teaching by Wilson County Schools Board after alleged pranks and harassment could be teaching in the system by January.
According to the report from Hearing Officer Robert Wheeler, he overturned the termination of Matthew Mock, formerly a sixth grade teacher at Tuckers Crossroads School, and he instead levied a one-semester suspension without pay after hearing three days of testimony.
He ordered "Mr. Mock be suspended from his duties with the Wilson County School System without pay from the beginning of the 2015-16 school year until the end of the first semester," Wheeler stated. "This decision is not to be construed to tell the school administration where Mr. Mock should teach. It is merely to say that he should not be dismissed as a tenured teacher."
Charges to support termination of Mock were recommended to the Board of Education by Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright. The Board of Education, in a unanimous vote on July 6, determined that the charges warranted the termination of Mock for participating in pranks, one of which was primarily directed at an African-American teacher at the school on May 28 of this year.
According to Wheeler, Mock was not "fired" during the July 6 meeting, he stated "they voted that if proven true, the charges submitted to them would 'warrant' his dismissal."
While Mock may be reinstated in January, he does not have to be reinstated specifically at Tuckers Crossroads.
"The decision of where to place Mr. Mock as a teacher is that of the Director of Schools," County Attorney Mike Jennings said. "The placement does not have to be at TXR or any other school in particular. He can be assigned to any school/position for which he is certified.
"No decision will be made until vacancies for the 2nd semester are determined," he added.
According to Tennessee teacher tenure laws, if a position comes available that Mock is certified to teach, as a tenured teacher, he has the first right of employment to be placed in that position.
"We will find a position within his area of certification," Wright said. "We are a large system and positions tend to become available after the end of a semester."
May 28 "pranks"
Mock as well as two other faculty members, who were not tenured, were cited in a May 28 police report for the following incidents:
Placing a lotion-type substance put on classroom door handles and a time clock
Turning over chairs and desks in a classroom
Taking of vehicle keys and moving them without permission
Taking Styrofoam packing peanuts that were school property and putting them in the car of one of the victims.
According to the report submitted by Mock's attorney Michael Clemons, "pranks were not an uncommon occurrence at Tuckers, the pranks Mr. Mock participated in on May 28th were no more egregious than any previous pranks, and no teachers in the past had ever been disciplined for their participation in said prank."
Wheeler agreed and that since his current principal Susie Breedwell didn't have a problem with the pranks, stated that "while this behavior was juvenile at best, I do not believe, based on this record, that is justifies Mr. Mock's dismissal."
The complaint of the event to Central Office was made by Anna Raines, who had recently been named the new principal at Tuckers Crossroads and was still working as an assistant principal at Lebanon High School.
The first she heard of the actions of Mock and two other teachers from a text message from a teacher at the school, and the school system sent a Wilson County Sheriff's deputy to the school to record the damages.
Racial discrimination charges unproven
In addition to the pranks, Wright presented to the board that Mock had also violated the board's policy on Illegal Discrimination/Harassment and Retaliation since some of the pranks were directed toward an African-American teacher at the school.
Wright described Mock's actions toward the African-American teacher at the school as discriminatory, such as overturning chairs in her classroom, placing lotion on her door handle and standing outside her classroom for much of the day. (Note: the teacher in question's classroom was directly next to Mock's classroom.)
However during hearings and testimony, the teacher stated that "she did not view the actions toward her that day to be race-related."
Hearing Officer Wheeler and Mock's attorney Clemons both mentioned that because of hateful speech on social media following the events from people accusing her of playing the "race card" were hurtful to the African-American teacher, resulting in her granted request to be moved from Tuckers Crossroads to another school.
The alleged "victimized" teacher complained only to Breedwell, who issued all pranks stop over the school's intercom. And Breedwell did not report the issue to Central Office and did not punish any of the teachers involved in the pranks.
She only requested that they fix all their pranks, in which Mock complied with and cleaned every door handle in the school, according to the final report.
"In the face of allegations that an employee in a protected class was being harassed, the Wilson County School System had no alternative but to investigate the matter," Wheeler stated. "The surest way for a school system as a whole to incur liability due to discrimination of any kind is to ignore it. The School System in this instance did its job."
Mock unemployed as teacher since meeting
Clemons confirmed that Mock has submitted his applications to other school districts without success.
And he confirmed that Mock would indeed like to be reinstated as a teacher in Wilson County.
"It's his home, and he has taught here for 14 years," Clemons said. "He more than anything wants to be teaching in Wilson County again."
The director of schools and Mock have 10 days after the ruling, which took place on Oct. 26, to appeal the decision. But Clemons said based on his conversations with the county, he does not anticipate they will not appeal the decision.
If the director of schools decided to appeal, the ruling would go back to the Wilson County Board of Education, who would review the ruling and vote again.
"We will not be appealing," said Wright through Wilson County Communications Director Amelia Hipps.
"The keys to his career are in his hands," Wheeler stated. "If there is further evidence of conduct unbecoming a member of the teaching profession in the form of joke playing that gets out of hand, then based on this history, it should result in his dismissal as a tenured teacher."
Managing Editor Zack Owensby may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.